Law Practice

Clifford Chance: Laid-Off 6 Akin to Contract Attorneys

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Once upon a time, even major law firms routinely hired associates with the expectation that they could become partners. While no fairy tale, that expectation is now something of a relic of legal history, as yet another account of modern-day practice makes clear.

In the wake of recent news that some law firms are establishing two-tiered associate systems, one of London’s ultra-elite law firms reportedly says the six associates it recently let go in New York because of a structured finance slowdown actually were more like contract attorneys than partnership-track colleagues. “These were lawyers hired during a boom time for a very specific role,” Craig Medwick, the Clifford Chance regional managing partner for the Americas, tells the Lawyer. “It’s similar to hiring contract attorneys brought in for a major litigation. If the case settles early, you’re generally not expected to retain those lawyers.”

“They were working exclusively on Standard & Poor’s work, and that’s dried up,” says another unnamed Clifford Chance partner, pointing out that the six associates were brought in a year ago specifically to do this work. “It’s unfortunate, but we did what needed to be done. We’re a healthy firm doing well, but one area dried up overnight. That doesn’t affect our underlying health.”

Other major firms whose practice is heavily focused on structured finance have taken a somewhat different approach, the British legal publication reports. At McKee Nelson, associates were told that they would receive a full-year bonus if they voluntarily left by Dec. 7, but would get a smaller bonus if they stayed. But Thacher Proffitt & Wood isn’t going to lay off any associates, according to managing partner Paul Tvetenstrand, although it has asked structured finance associates to look for work in other practice areas within the firm.

“It’s certainly slow in the residential area, but there are other asset classes,” he tells Legal Week. “Litigation is very busy across the board. We’re asking people to pitch in.”

The Clifford Chance layoffs are detailed in earlier and London Times articles.

As discussed in other posts, Chapman and Cutler and McDermott Will & Emery have recently announced two-tiered associate systems.

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